You can make your own will – but do you want to risk it?
Yes, you can make your own will. And, here is an explanation of what you need to think about when doing so.
Let’s start at the beginning, and ask ourselves what a will does.
Why do I need a Will?
A will sets in stone who gets what of our assets when we die. And, it appoints the person(s) with the legal authority to deal with the administration of our estate – known as Executors. If we don’t make a will setting out those wishes, the law decides who gets what, not us! If you die without a will it is known as an intestacy. If you would like to know more about this, check out our guides on intestacy.
Make sure your will is valid
Forgetting the simple matter of ensuring you have correctly given your estate to those you want to, you also need to be careful to make sure that various ‘admin’ bits are covered off. If they aren’t, it can leave your will invalid. The sorts of things you need to be mindful of include:
- Signed and witnessed correctly (see below)
- You are of sound mind and not under pressure to make the will (see below)
- There are no clerical errors suggesting (eg) pages are missing (see below)
What do I need to include in my Will?
The things you may want to think about include:
- Revocation Clause
- Chattels (personal items)
- Cash Legacies
- Residuary Estate
- Letter of Wishes (this is separate to your will)
What is a Revocation Clause?
This is the opening of your will. It will typically state who you are, your address at the time, and critically it will cancel (‘revoke’) any previous wills. It might look something like this:
This WILL dated _______________________ is made by me JOE BLOGS of 1 High Street Midtown MT1 3AB and I REVOKE all earlier wills
What does an Executor do?
Your executor(s) have lots to do. They are personally responsible for making sure all of your legal affairs are wound up after your death. The amount of work needed will of course depend on your particular circumstances. But, be mindful of the burden you will be placing on someone.
Check out our guide on ‘What is an Executor’ if you’d like to know more. The appointment clause in your will is likely to look something like this:
I APPOINT my friend BILL SMITH of 7 Back Road Midtown MT2 7RJ and my brother JACK BLOGS of 43 Carrington Crescent Sorryville SR7 5BT to be my EXECUTOR(S)
What is a Trustee in a Will?
Trustees will invariably be the same people as your executors, albeit they do a different job. I you have a trust in your will, then that means the money or assets in that trust will need to be held for a period of time. This is where your trustees come in. It can be anything simple from a gift to a beneficiary under 18, through to a complex will dealing with property.
Read more about Will Trusts >
By using a solicitor to make your Will you give your loved ones protection.
Who should I choose as Guardians?
If you have children under 18, then your will should appoint guardians to take over the legal parental responsibility that you would otherwise have had. A Guardian appointment only kicks in if both legal/natural parents have died.
A Guardian appointment might look something like this:
I APPOINT my sister JOAN BLOGS of 89 Particular Place Parrishwood PW4 8WD to be the GUARDIAN of my minor children
It is very important to think carefully about who your guardians should be. Read more here on who to choose and why to choose them. GUARDIANS
What about my Personal Items (Chattels)?
For most of us, the reality is that personal items on death carry more sentimental value than financial market value. For this reason, many leave a simple clause in their will asking that the executors dispose of their personal items in accordance with any side Letter of Wishes. This gives you the flexibility of being able to update that side letter without having to update your will.
A chattels clause might look something like this:
I ASK that my executors dispose of my personal items with regard to any written wishes I have made them aware of
What are Cash Legacies?
Cash legacies are fixed amounts of money left to nominated persons or organisations. They tend to be used as token gestures, rather than to deal with the bulk of your estate (your residuary estate). A cash legacy gift might look something like this:
I GIVE £1,000 (one thousand pounds) to the RNLI of West Quay Road Poole BH15 1HZ (RCN 209603)
Read more about cash legacies >
What is a Residuary Estate?
Your residuary estate is basically ‘everything else’ that hasn’t already been referred to. NB you do not have to include cash legacies or gifts of personal items, so for many of us, the residuary clause of our will might be the only bit that deals with assets (ie aside from executor appointments and so on).
The residuary estate is typically divided into shares or percentages where there is more than one residuary beneficiary.
A simple example of how residuary estate is dealt with might be for married couple with children. That clause may look like this:
I GIVE the rest of my estate to my wife JANE BLOGS or failing her to those of my children living at the date of my death and if more than one in equal shares
You can read more about residuary estate >
What is a Letter of Wishes?
A letter of wishes is an informal side letter that does exactly what it says! It can provide your executors and or guardians and or next of kind with all manner of helpful guidance around anything from funeral arrangements, to the distribution of your personal items, to education of your minor children.
It is absolutely critical that your will is made and executed in accordance with the relevant laws and requirements of them. The will needs to contain legally binding stuff. Things like funeral arrangements are merely expressions of wishes, and so arguably clutter your will unnecessarily. Moreover, if those wishes change, you simply update your letter of wishes, without having to worry about the formality or expense of updating your will.
Check out our guide: What is a Letter of Wishes?
How to sign a Will
It is critical when you sign and witness the will that you do so in a prescribed way. You must have 2 witnesses, who must be present with you when you sign, and when they each witness.
Ream more in our ‘how to sign a will’ guide.
What might make my Will invalid?
The point at which this question would likely be tested is at the point at which you pass away, and or when your chosen executors come to apply for probate. The things that might make it invalid include it not being signed properly (above), or the condition of the document (particularly if it looks like it has been tampered with.
Someone might challenge your will too – for example if they felt you were not of ‘sound mind’ when you made it, or that you were being put under pressure to, for example, exclude beneficiaries that you might reasonably expected to have been included (ie you were put under ‘duress’). These are just two reasons why it is good to use a qualified solicitor to prepare your will as part of their service is to assess things like this and make an independent record that they believe you to be of sound mind and making the will of your own free will.
Why should I use a Solicitor to make my Will?
You certainly can make your own will. Question is, do you want the peace of mind of using a professional so that you know it is right? Solicitors are the only regulated professionals who deal with wills – meaning you have the protection of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Ombudsman should there be a problem. There are many ‘will writers’ out there – but they are NOT regulated and do NOT offer the protection you have when choosing a solicitor.
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NB – this guide is intended to be of educational interest and should NOT be taken as legal advice specific to you or your particular circumstances